Am I eligible if I am a legal immigrant?

Produced by Patricia Baker and Victoria Negus
Reviewed January 2018

The eligibility rules for immigrants and refugees (immigrants) are very complicated and sometimes require the advice of an experienced advocate. It is also important to note that the SNAP eligibility rules affecting immigrants are different from cash assistance and MassHealth rules. The chart in Appendix D highlights the differences.

There are basically three groups of immigrants who qualify for benefits under the SNAP rules. 106 C.M.R. §§ 362.220-362.240.

Group 1: Refugees and other individuals who have fled persecution

You qualify under the SNAP eligibility requirements if you are:

  • A person who entered the U.S. as a refugee,
  • A person granted asylum after entering the U.S.,
  • A person granted withholding of deportation or removal,
  • A Cuban/Haitian entrant—defined as a national of Cuba or Haiti who has legal status, a pending application for asylum or an application for certain other statuses,
  • A Vietnamese Amerasian immigrant (e.g., the offspring of a U.S. citizen conceived during the Vietnam war), or
  • A victim of trafficking in persons—such as slavery or sex trafficking— who has applied for status under a special process with the Department of Health and Human Services.
  • Nationals of Iraq or Afghanistan granted a “Special Immigrant Visa” (SIV) designation. SIV holders are legal permanent residents, many of whom worked on behalf of the U.S. government in Iraq or Afghanistan. They and their immediate family members may be granted immediate legal permanent residence in the U.S.

If your immigration status falls under one of the above, you may qualify for SNAP benefits without the five-year waiting period. You are also eligible without the 5-year waiting period if you recently got LPR status after you  had one of these refugee-type statuses.

Group 2: Legal permanent residents, parolees and battered immigrants

You may qualify under the SNAP rules if you are:

  • A legal permanent resident (LPR or sometimes referred to as a “green card holder”),
  • A person granted parolee status (generally based on humanitarian or public interest reasons) for more than one year, or
  • A battered immigrant (this includes the parent of an abused child or the child of an abused parent) who meet the requirements for battered immigrants in What are the special immigrant rules for battered immigrants?.

If you are one of the above immigrants, you also do not need to wait five  years if you meet any of the following:

Group 3: Immigrants with other special statuses

You meet the SNAP eligibility requirements, without the 5-year waiting period, if you:

  • are a Native American born in Canada or Mexico (Native Americans born in the U.S. are already U.S. citizens),
  • were a Hmong or Highland Laotian tribe member during the Vietnam war or are the spouse, surviving spouse or unmarried dependent child of a tribe member, or
  • are a veteran of the U.S. military, an active duty service member, or the spouse, widow or dependent of a veteran or active duty service member lawfully residing in the U.S. (even if not an LPR). See 106 C.M.R. § 362.240(A) for a list of immigrants considered to be lawfully residing in the U.S.

Which immigrants are not SNAP eligible?​

Unless you fall within one of the above three groups, you are not eligible for SNAP for yourself. See 106 C.M.R. § 362.220(D)-(G).  You may still file an application for U.S. citizen or qualified immigrant dependents who meet the SNAP eligibility rules (and your income will count in determining their benefits), but you will not receive any benefits for yourself.  

Examples of ineligible immigrants include:

  • Adults with LPR or parole status who have less than 5 years in qualified status, are not disabled and don’t have the 40 quarters of countable work history. See How can my work history help so I don't have to wait 5 years for SNAP?.
  • An immigrant who is lawfully present under other provisions of federal immigration law, such as applicants for asylum or adjustment under a relative petition, immigrants granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS), or immigrants with other statuses, even if the immigrants have work authorization , 
    An immigrant who is out-of-status or undocumented, or
    An immigrant with a “non-immigrant visa” such as a college student, visitor/tourist, diplomat or business visa. 

See Can my children get benefits if I am an ineligible immigrant? for how ineligible immigrant parents can apply for eligible children, and How does DTA count the income of an ineligible immigrant? for a description of how income of ineligible immigrants is counted to the rest of the household.

Advocacy Reminders:

  • For copies of U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Service-issued documents and a key to the USCIS immigration codes, see materials produced by National Immigration Law Center
  • You must give proof of immigration status for any immigrant household member who is applying for SNAP. Federal law also requires DTA to then confirm the status of immigrants seeking SNAP through a government data base administer by USCIS called  “SAVE” (Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements).
  • If you do not have proof of your legal immigration status because it is lost or missing, and you or DTA sent a request to USCIS for verification of your status, DTA must issue you for SNAP pending the results for up to 6 months (if you meet the other eligibility rules). 7 CFR 273.2(f)(1)(ii)(B)(3) and 106 CMR 362.220(C).
  • USCIS has a special process for immigrants to correct wrong or incomplete information in SAVE Contact an advocate if DTA says SAVE has not confirmed your status or if you wish to correct the information USCIS has in SAVE.
  • Be sure to double check if DTA says you must wait 5 years for benefits. Persons unfamiliar with the immigrant requirements sometimes incorrectly assume all LPRs must wait 5 years when rule does not apply to LPRs who entered as refugees, asylees, children and certain disabled immigrants. A battered immigrant’s 5 year waiting period starts from when the VAWA or a relative petition was filed and not when granted LPR status.

DTA Policy Guidance:

DTA Online Guide:

Additional Guidance
  • SAVE: Reminder to DTA staff about how to verify noncitizen status and information from USCIS on SAVE document selections. Operations Bulletin 2017-2 (Jan 17, 2017). Ops Memo 2013-14A (May 2, 2013); Right of immigrants to notify USCIS and correct inaccurate immigration status information in SAVE, Ops Memo 2013-14A (May. 2, 2013)
  • Disabled LPRs receiving EAEDC not subject to 5 year bar if disability meets disability severity of SSI as determined by UMass Disability Evaluation Service (DES). Elderly LPRs (age 65+) not subject to 5 year bar if receiving EAEDC and can provide statement from MD re disability, no need for UMass DES review.  Hotline Q & A (October 2014)
  • Information on how to notify USCIS of inaccurate immigration status information in SAVE, Ops Memo 2013-14A (May. 2, 2013) 
  • Detailed guidance on Cuban and Haitian nationals who qualify as Cuban/Haitian entrants and how to verify eligibility. F.O. Memo 2007-52 (Sept. 28, 2007) See also Transitions Hotline Q&A (Nov. 2011) re parolee from Cuba or Haiti may qualify without 5 year wait.
  • Start date of 5- year waiting period begins with date immigrant granted humanitarian parole and not LPR status. Transitions Hotline Q&A, (Oct. 2011, and Q&A of May 2006)
  • Detailed guidance battered immigrants and acceptable verifications. F.O. Memo 2005-22 (May 1, 2005).
  • Guidance on Iraqi and Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) treated same as refugees, no 5 year wait. F.O. Memo 2010-19 (March 6, 2010)

Show DTA Policy Guidance

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